The Spirit Thief is the first book in The Legend of Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron. It just came out the beginning of this month, and the next two books in the series will both be out by the end of this year. The Spirit Rebellion is available now, and The Spirit Eater will be available in December. A fourth book, The Spirit War, is in progress with plans for release in 2011.

The king of Mellinor is ecstatic to have captured the infamous thief and wizard Eli Monpress. After all, there are two bounties on Eli’s head for a total of twenty-five thousand gold and he could use a new arena.  However, he hardly has time to figure out how to spend his all that money before he’s informed that Eli has somehow escaped. For while the king was gloating over his imminent increase in wealth, Eli convinced the door to his cell that it was not in its best interests to remain attached to the wall.

During the chaos resulting from the unknown whereabouts of Eli, the wizard Miranda arrives at the castle gates. Miranda traveled to Mellinor on behalf of the Spirit Court with a warning for the king.  The Spirit Court members heard that Eli had recently shown interest in Mellinor and suspect he intends to steal a dangerous artifact from the royal  treasury. Unfortunately, the message comes after Eli’s plan has come to fruition, although the Spirit Court’s guess about the thief’s intentions was not entirely accurate: Eli did not want a magical item but the king himself.

Miranda determines to search for Eli but soon discovers the kingdom is faced with an even greater threat than this conniving thief – and the only way to stop it may be for her to work with him to overcome it.

First of all, I’ve seen a lot of posts on different blogs mentioning they got this book in the mail but don’t think they will read it because the cover makes it look like paranormal romance in disguise.  That is not the case at all.  This is light, sometimes humorous fantasy adventure, and there is no romance in this book, not even a romantic subplot.  It seemed more like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, albeit one set in a different place than the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  It did not surprise me at all to read the interview at the end of the book and discover that the idea for the book began with a character from a D&D game- a thief whose goal in life was to increase his bounty to one million gold, which is Eli’s motivation for much of his thievery.

For the first half of the book, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to like it.  Even though it had an interesting universe, it also had a fairly conventional plot and one dimensional characters.  By the end, I did find that a couple of the characters had really grown on me, though, and there were also enough hints of larger developments for future installments that my curiosity is piqued.  In particular, I’d like to see the ramifications of living in this world explored in greater detail and hope to see more of that in the next book.

Since the next book looks like it deals more with the Spiritualists in the Spirit Court, this wish just may come true.  In The Spirit Thief, everything has a spirit – even normally inanimate objects such as doors and naturally occurring objects such as trees, wind, fire, and rocks.  Wizards are those humans who can actually communicate with these spirits, and the Spirit Court is a group of wizards who are spirit rights activists.  Part of being a wizard is being able to control spirits, and the members of the Spirit Court believe it is unethical to force a spirit to do their bidding without that spirit’s willing consent.  For this reason, the Spiritualists make mutually beneficial contracts with the spirits that serve them.  There were a couple of scenes that showed the types of dilemmas living in a world in which essentially everything is alive cause, and these were some of my favorite parts of the novel.  Although it may not really be fitting with the overall light tone of the novel to dwell on more serious issues too much, I am rather hoping future installments show at least a little more of the consequences of living in this sort of world.

Other than the setting and magic, not much else in the book stands out as particularly unique, although it was an enjoyable story once it got going.  The plot starts as a heist but soon turns into two enemies putting aside their differences for the greater good of the world (or, er, part of the world anyway).  At the beginning I thought the characters were rather generic, although I did like Eli from the very beginning.  (How can I resist a charismatic, competent thief as a protagonist?)  As the story progressed, it made me more and more interested in the origins of his powers.  In addition to being a thief, Eli is a wizard – but as is apparent from the very first scene, he’s not the same as the other wizards.  He’s better able to communicate with the spirits, who are very willing to accommodate him thanks to his amazing powers of persuasion.  There are some brief parts about where this power came from, but I’m definitely looking forward to learning more details about how this came about.

By the end of the book, I also found Miranda had grown on me a lot.  She’s obviously compassionate because she believes so strongly in doing no harm to any living spirit, but she’s also tough and admirable.  If she needs to, she can put aside her qualms to do what she thinks needs to be done, and she’s also able to change her actions when she realizes she is wrong.  For instance, when the librarian at Mellinor is annoying her with ill-informed questions about wizardry, Miranda’s first reaction is to snap at her.  Yet Miranda quickly reminds herself it’s not her fault she doesn’t know anything.  She puts herself in the young woman’s shoes, realizing she has lived her entire life in a country that hates wizards.  Soon, Miranda is ashamed of herself for her treatment of the one person who seems interested in learning more about her profession, and she becomes friendlier and more informative.

Other than Eli and Miranda, none of the characters were that compelling so I’m hoping they get better fleshed out in the next book.  Nico, the demonseed who appears as a girl, definitely has potential, but both her character and the warrior Josef need more depth.  At this time, they don’t actually seem to be more than figures with a few traits.  Josef wields a huge magic sword and fights well, and Nico is freakishly strong with a dark side to her nature.  The villain was also one dimensional, although at least his actions made sense with how he had been treated.

The ending was well done – very exciting, and it also wrapped up the main storyline nicely while leaving the feeling that there’s more to the overall story.  At the same time, there are also plenty of small threads left open for the next books, such as more background on some of the characters and the mysterious League of Storms that shows up a couple of times.  The way some of these were included felt a little clunky since there were a couple of perspectives that just came up once or twice and seemed somewhat out of place, but at least by the conclusion it felt like setup for the next book instead of pure randomness.

Even though the beginning of The Spirit Thief had me wondering whether or not I’d enjoy it, I found I had rather enjoyed it once I reached the end.  It’s a fun story set in a fascinating world in which everything has a spirit, and wizardry is not spell-casting but the ability to hear these spirits.  While some of the characters are rather shallowly depicted in this first installment, the charismatic Eli and dutiful Miranda are both engaging, likable characters.  I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in The Spirit Rebellion.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read the First Two Chapters

Other reviews:

It’s my first leaning pile of books post on the new site!  I’ve also finished a draft of a review of The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron so I’m hoping to have my first book review at the new site up on Tuesday.  Today I’m hoping to get most of the way through a review of Elfland by Freda Warrington as well.

Before getting to the books, I just wanted to mention a couple of bargains I just noticed at Amazon for those of you in the US who may be planning to participate in either The Women of Fantasy or The Women of Science Fiction book club next year.  Lilith’s Brood and Indigo Springs are both available as bargain books (or at least they were a little while ago).  They are both trade paperbacks and they were both about $10 off.

Now on to books from this week – 3 review copies (2 of which I will be reading immediately) and 1 purchased (and already read) by my husband.

The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

This is the second book in the Inheritance trilogy, following The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which was just released earlier this year.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was one of my very favorite books I’ve read this year (review). It had such an engaging narrative style and a wonderful mythology so I’ve been really looking forward to this one.  I somehow ended up with 2 review copies so I am giving away the duplicate copy.  This giveaway is open worldwide, and it looks like I’m far from the only person excited about this book since it was already the most popular one I’d ever had after less than 24 hours of being posted.  The Broken Kingdoms will be released on November 3. In the meantime, the first three chapters are available online: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

This is volume 1 of A Dirge for Prester John.  There will be two more books in the series, The Folded World and The Spindle of Necessity.  These books will all be released a year apart in November 2010, November 2011, November 2012.  Ever since I first heard about this book I’ve been really looking forward to it.  Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden (review) is imaginative, beautifully written and unlike anything else I’ve read before.  As soon as I finish reading The Broken Kingdoms, I’m starting this one.

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?

Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye–a headless creature who carried her face on her chest–as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family. Hugo and World Fantasy award nominee Catherynne M. Valente reimagines the legends of Prester John in this stunning tour de force.

Bitten in Two by Jennifer Rardin

Even though I’ve never read Jennifer Rardin’s books, it was with some sadness I saw this one since I had read that she passed away recently.  This is the seventh book in the Jaz Parks series.  I have heard this series was good and have been wanting to read the first one but I’ve got some catching up to do before reading this one…  It will be released on November 8 and the final book in the series, The Deadliest Bite, is scheduled to be released in June 2011.

Jaz Parks here. I. Am. Pissed. Just as Vayl and I arrive in Morocco to secure an ancient artifact, he wakes up calling me by another woman’s name. And it’s not even a good one. But since any form of argument transforms him into an unholy terror, I’m forced to play along until the gang and I can figure out what kind of power has so vastly altered his perceptions.

So it’s time for me to do what any well-trained assassin in my position might do. I attack. What follows is a hair-raising, breath-taking bullet train ride to the finish as the crew battles on multiple fronts. I now know what I have to do – I must return to hell one last time.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

A long-awaited new book in the Miles Vorkosigan series just came out!  I’m not caught up to this one yet, but my husband recently read a good chunk of the series and had to pre-order this one.  Thankfully, since after he finished the last Miles book he kept asking me to recommend him more books.  Then every time I handed him a book he’d ask me if it had Miles in it and reject it when, of course, it did not.  Unfortunately, he already finished this one two days ago so he may be back to requesting more books with Miles in them…

Miles Vorkosigan is back!

Kibou-daini is a planet obsessed with cheating death. Barrayaran Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan can hardly disapprove-he’s been cheating death his whole life, on the theory that turnabout is fair play. But when a Kibou-daini cryocorp-an immortal company whose job it is to shepherd its all-too-mortal frozen patrons into an unknown future-attempts to expand its franchise into the Barrayaran Empire, Emperor Gregor dispatches his top troubleshooter Miles to check it out.

On Kibou-daini, Miles discovers generational conflict over money and resources is heating up, even as refugees displaced in time skew the meaning of generation past repair. Here he finds a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don’t mess with the secretary. Bribery, corruption, conspiracy, kidnapping-something is rotten on Kibou-daini, and it isn’t due to power outages in the Cryocombs. And Miles is in the middle-of trouble!

Lately I’ve come across a few articles of interest that I’ve been meaning to mention but haven’t with all the time spent on getting this new site up and running. The first of these are a couple of book clubs for next year that each have a wonderful selection of books: The Women of Fantasy and The Women of Science Fiction.

Women of Fantasy

Erika of Jawas Read Too is hosting The Women of Fantasy, which consists of a wonderful list of books:

  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
  • Elfland by Freda Warrington
  • Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter
  • Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
  • War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
  • The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier
  • All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear
  • Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica
  • Firebird by Mercedes Lackey
  • Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
  • The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee

I haven’t read all of these but some books I really loved are in this list – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (review), Elfland (which I just finished last night), and All the Windwracked Stars (review).  Out of these I’ve read one other book on the list, The Gaslight Dogs (review).  While it wasn’t a book I loved, it was set in an interesting world and has the potential to be the start to an interesting series.  Prospero Lost, War for the Oaks, The Dark Mirror, Indigo Springs and Tooth and Claw are all books I really want to read so I’m going to read at least one (hopefully more) for this.

Women of Science Fiction

TJ at Dreams and Speculation is running The Women of Science Fiction.  The list of books for this book club also looks amazing:

  • Dust by Elizabeth Bear
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • Dooms Day Book by Connie Willis
  • Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson
  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
  • Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
  • Farthing by Jo Walton
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • City of Pearl by Karen Traviss
  • Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.

My science fiction reading seems to be lacking since I’ve only read one of these – Cordelia’s Honor, which is a GREAT book (review).  Dust and City of Pearl are both on my to-read pile, and I should definitely use this as an excuse to read Dust since I love Elizabeth Bear and can’t believe I haven’t read it yet.  The Dispossessed, Lilith’s Brood, China Mountain Zhang and Farthing are all on my wish list so maybe I should use it as an excuse to read one or two of those as well.

This piece of news made me squeal a little: there are plans to make Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu into a TV mini-series or movie.  The Wraethththu Chronicles is one of my favorite series ever.  It would be interesting to see as a movie or mini-series, at least if it was done well.

Image by Joshua Sosrosaputro

It’s finally here – the new site! Although I’m a little sad (and a little nervous) about leaving the old one behind, I do love the new header image my husband made for this one. But it has been over 3 years since I’ve had the other one now and it’s time for a change.

If you have any feedback or suggestions for the new site, please let me know! My husband and I have tested this one in several different browsers and are hoping it will be a little friendlier to a wider variety of browsers and computers than the old site.

A few pieces of business to attend to first:

  • The posts and comments from the old site were imported here, but I did notice that occasionally there was a comment that didn’t get moved for some reason. Content from the old site was imported before October 3, which means all posts from that point forward had to be entered here manually and do not have comments.
  • Depending on which RSS subscription option you were using, you may need to re-subscribe. There is a link under “Follow” on the top right for the new one.
  • If you happen to link have a link on your site to Fantasy Cafe, please update the URL to http://www.fantasybookcafe.com. And thank you to everyone who does link to my site!

As a tradeoff for my nervousness in leaving the Blogger behind, this WordPress install has a ton of new toys to play with!  Some you’ll notice and some you won’t, but here are a couple of examples:

  • Fantasy Cafe is now much more friendly to mobile users!  A mobile version of the site loads with an iPhone-like interface that is easy to read on small screens.
  • Disqus integration provides a cleaner and more advanced commenting system.  You can now log in to comment using your Open ID, Facebook, Twitter, Disqus, or Yahoo! account (or no account at all as a guest).
  • Though it has existed for a while, there is now a link to Fantasy Cafe’s Facebook page along with all the other follow options on the upper-right corner of the page.
  • Some new layout widgets like hidden spoiler sections and a bookbox template – which you might think just looks nice, but building it out as a template shortcode saves me a lot of time when I’m trying to format my reviews.
  • …and more to come, once we figure out if the new site has any kinks that need working out!

I hope those of you who visit will continue to stop by even though I have moved!  Thanks to everybody for a great first four (almost)  years, I’m looking forward to many more!

Yesterday I received a review copy of one of my most anticipated releases of this year, The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.  Today I got a second copy of the book in the mail so I’m giving away my extra copy.  This is a not an ARC – it is the finished copy of the book, which will be released on November 3.

The Broken Kingdoms is the second book in the Inheritance trilogy, although it is supposed to be about different main characters than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms earlier this year and loved it for its narrative voice, mythology and characters (review).  Here’s some more information on The Broken Kingdoms:

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .

If it sounds interesting or if you just can’t look away from that gorgeous cover and want to win a copy, fill out the form to enter.

Note: The contact form that used to be here has been removed since the giveaway is over.

Giveaway Rules

This giveaway is open worldwide – it does not matter where you live.  Entries will be accepted through the end of the day on Friday October 29 and the winner will be selected randomly and contacted on October 30.  If I do not get an address to send the book to from the winner by November 2, a new winner will be selected.  Good luck!

This week I bought one book that is out of print. I happened to find some used copies available for $2 – $3 on Amazon that qualified for Prime so I snatched one up.

The Ladies of Mandrigyn by Barbara Hambly

This book came out in the 1984 and is the first book in the Sun Wolf and Starhawk trilogy. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book and have had it on my “out of print book” wish list for a while. Unfortunately, I had always thought it was very expensive since searching for it on Amazon shows it is unavailable other than one used copy for $999.98. While I do want to read it, I don’t want to read it quite that badly… This time I found there are other editions available that are MUCH cheaper if you actually click on the book, though. Since there were some for $2 or $3 that qualified for free shipping, I figured why not get one now.

When Sun Wolf, a mercenary captain, turned down an elegant lady from the town of Mandrigyn and her preposterous request that he fight for her an unwinable battle, he had no idea what trouble he was getting into. Sheera had no intention of taking no for an answer, and as an unwilling prisoner, Sun Wolf begins to train the women of Mandrigyn as a fighting force. His lieutenant, Starhawk, follows his trail to the city where all the men have been imprisoned by the last wizard to walk to the earth. Sun Wolf is foced to admit, before long, that he has violated ever rule about wizardry and love that his father handed down to him, and once reunited, both Sun Wolf and Starhawk (in a theme which soon becomes familiar during their subsequent travels), are forced to leave Mandrigyn at the end of the story – and the newly-freed men to the surprises that their battle-trained wives and daughters have become.
Locus award nominee, 1985
Published by Del Rey books in 1984.